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September 2012

Overseeding Fairways in Japan

Habu 2
Twelve years ago this week, I was working with the maintenance crew at Habu CC just east of Tokyo to overseed the bermudagrass fairways with perennial ryegrass. First we verticut, swept, mowed, swept, brushed, mowed, and swept the fairways to prepare them for seeding. Then we spread the seed. And we did all this without closing the course for a single day. Habu 1

Immediately after dropping the seed we topdressed the fairways with sand. And then we turned on the water. As you might imagine, keeping the seed moist with frequent irrigation throughout the day was a bit tricky while the course was still open for play.

Habu 3

The results were good, however, and golfers were soon playing on beautiful overseeded fairways, a rarity in Japan where almost all courses have dormant zoysia fairways from October through April.


Preparing for Overseeding Twelve Years Ago in Japan

Links-aug-2000Twelve years ago, I moved from Shanghai Links Golf and Country Club in China (pictured at right) to Japan, where I went to work as the superintendent at Habu Country Club in Chiba prefecture.

Habu CC has bentgrass greens and noshiba (Zoysia japonica) roughs, which is typical of golf courses near Tokyo, but it is unusual in that it has bermudagrass tees and fairways instead of the more typical korai (Zoysia matrella).  Habu-overseed 1

At Habu, one of my first jobs was to overseed the tees and fairways with perennial ryegrass to prepare for the winter when the bermudagrass would be dormant. A new (for Japan) system was being implemented at the course in which golfers would drive 2-passenger Club Car carts on the fairways, rather than using caddy-driven 5-passenger carts that never left the cart paths. Habu

When I first arrived, even though it was coming to the end of a hot summer, the bermudagrass was not especially vigorous. We applied some fertilizer to stimulate the bermuda to grow for a few weeks while the temperatures were still hot, before we would overseed at the end of September.

Habu-overseed 2

We began our preparations by verticutting the fairways, then sweeping up the debris. The fairways were mown, and then brushed, and then mown again, as we gradually lowered the mowing height down to 8 mm. 

Habu-overseed 4

The course remained open for play during these preparations, so we had to do our regular work such as raking bunkers, changing hole locations, and preparing the course for play in addition to our work getting the fairways ready for overseeding.

After the final mowing, we swept the fairways one last time, using all the equipment we had available, and then we were ready for seeding. Coming up in the next post, how we spread the seed and grew it.

Habu-overseed 3

Indian Golf Union Greenkeeper Education Programme Underway in South Zone

Twenty greenkeers from India's South Zone have gathered at the hill station of Kodaikanal this week for the second year of the IGU Greenkeeper Education Programme. At last year's programme, held at Eagleton Golf Resort in Bangalore, we studied topics related to Principles of Greenkeeping. This year, at host Kodaikanal Golf Club, we are focusing the weeklong course on Improving Course Conditions.

Landscape_kodaiKodaikanal is high in the Palni Hills at an elevation of more than 2,100 meters. From the Club, we can look down at the plains of Tamil Nadu far below. At this elevation, the main grasses on the course are kikuyugrass (Pennisetum clandestinum), creeping bentgrass (Agrostis stolonifera), narrowleaf carpetgrass (Axonopus affinis), and blue couch (Digitaria didactyla). 

A sign beside the first tee at Kodaikanal Golf Club says "welcome to India's only organic golf course," and in this climate, with these grasses, the organic management approach works well. In addition to the classroom seminars, and the practical sessions on the course, most of the delegates are staying at the Club and have the chance to inspect the course in the evenings after the day's training is finished.


Nets are placed around the greens at the Club, to keep off the wild boars but more especially to keep off the gaur. Every night, herds of Indian gaur come onto the course to graze. This is the largest species of wild cattle and I got a closeup look at this one as he was making his way to the Club.


This is a great venue in a great town, and the topics for this year are sure to be of value to golf courses here. We discuss irrigation, organic matter management, weed control, and turfgrass nutrient requirements and fertilizer. This programme, put on by the Indian Golf Union with support from The R&A, will continue in upcoming weeks at Pune, New Delhi, and Kolkata. 


The Real Price of Fertilizer

The two mineral elements used in the largest amount by turfgrass plants are nitrogen and potassium. In seeing what some premixed fertilizers sell for, compared to the actual cost of nitrogen and potassium if one were to mix one's own fertilizer, it never fails to surprise me to see some turf managers struggle to get funds for necessary equipment or other products, when so much money could be saved by a switch in what fertilizers are used.

If money is not an issue, then you don't need to read any further. But if you would like to see how to get this quality of green, without wasting a penny on fertilizer expense, then you will want to read on. Or, as you'll see below, if you are spending more than $1,000 per year to fertilize greens, this information may be of interest.

T-1 creeping bentgrass in Japan

All the turfgrass surfaces pictured in this post were produced by using the most basic forms of fertilizer nitrogen and potassium – urea, ammonium sulfate, potassium sulfate, potassium chloride – as the primary sources of those elements. 


This works for creeping bentgrass, it works for ultradwarf bermudagrass, and it works for seashore paspalum. 

seashore paspalum green at Vietnam

To estimate the cost, I've checked current fertilizer prices in Canada, Japan, Thailand, and Vietnam. Then, I've used the growth potential model, as described here, to estimate the monthly nitrogen requirement for different grass species in different locations, based on local weather data. Adding together the monthly nitrogen use of the grass gives us an annual total.


We will apply potassium at half the nitrogen rate in our hypothetical situation here to ensure the plant has enough potassium, but in many cases (this can be determined by a soil test), potassium in the soil is already sufficient to meet all the needs of the grass.

So how much does this all cost? Let's assume the putting green surface area at each of these locations is 10,000 square meters - 1 hectare. Using current prices and exchange rates for Canada, Japan, Thailand, and Vietnam, we can supply the total annual nitrogen and potassium for 1 hectare for:

Canada, bentgrass, CAD $630, or USD $644

Japan, bentgrass, ¥81,119, or USD $1,036

Thailand, bermudagrass, ฿23,302, or USD $754

Vietnam, seashore paspalum, VND 17,058,800, or USD $826

Miniverde bermudagrass in Japan

For annual fertilizer costs to supply all the nitrogen and potassium needed by the grass, we go from a minimum of $644 at Canada to a maximum of $1,036 at Japan. That is the approximate range of cost for fertilizer. But just because we pay a low price for fertilizer, it does not mean that the turf conditions suffer. Not at all.

Nitrogen is nitrogen, and potassium is potassium, and if you are wanting to save money in your turfgrass maintenance, and if you are spending more than $1,000 per hectare per year on the most highly-maintained turf that you have, you might look at the use of urea, and ammonium sulfate, and potassium sulfate, and even potassium chloride as a way to produce the same or better quality turf, while saving funds for another use.

Penncross creeping bentgrass in Japan

For more information about turfgrass nutrient requirements and fertilizer requirements and cost, see:

Turfgrass Nitrogen Requirement and Growth Potential

How to Save 60% or More in Turfgrass Fertilizer Cost

Understanding Turfgrass Nutrient Requirements

How to Save 60% or More in Turfgrass Fertilizer Cost

Some recent events have prompted me to consider fertilizer cost. These include discussions with golf course superintendents, blog posts by Jason Haines in which he describes how he reduced fertilizer costs by 60% and how he can fertilize greens for $25/acre/month, and this advertisement for fertilizer in Thailand, offered at a price of ONLY 38,400 Thai baht per hectare per month (USD 1,243, or about USD 503 per acre).

With such a huge (more than 20 times) difference in fertilizer cost, I began to wonder, just what is the cost to get these kind of conditions, as shown in the images in the slideshow below.

The fertilizer used to produce these pictured conditions, for creeping bentgrass, seashore paspalum, and bermudagrass, and also the fertilizer that Jason uses to produce these conditions, is urea and/or ammonium sulfate.

To determine approximately how much nitrogen any turfgrass will use, we can use the temperature-based growth potential. Then, we can apply urea or ammonium sulfate to supply the necessary nitrogen. Phosphorus and potassium should be applied based on the result of a soil nutrient analysis. Let's make a quick calculation of annual fertilizer cost, using the growth potential model for nitrogen and using a typical situation in which soil phosphorus is adequate to meet plant requirements and in which potassium will be applied at half the rate of nitrogen. 

We can consider the cost to apply fertilizer to creeping bentgrass at Osaka. I choose Japan because it has relatively high fertilizer prices. There, the price of urea is ¥2,450 for a 20 kg bag, and potassium sulfate is ¥2,500 for a 20 kg bag. Using the growth potential model, we predict an annual N requirement of 20 g/m2, and for K we will apply 10 g/m2. Assuming a green surface area of 10,000 m2, the annual fertilizer cost for the greens will be ¥81,119. With today's exchange rates, that is equivalent to an annual cost of USD 1,031. And that is a cost of USD 417/acre/year.

At Bangkok, bermudagrass may use about 44 g of N/m2/year, and the urea cost in Thailand is 328 baht for 20 kg. Potassium sulfate is 640 baht for 20 kg and we will apply 22 g K/m2/year. Assuming green surface area of 10,000 m2, the annual fertilizer cost for the greens in Thailand, using these products, will be 31,377 baht. With today's exchange rates, that is equivalent to an annual cost of USD $1,016. And that is a cost of USD 411/acre/year. 

With the money spent on the branded fertilizer at ONLY 38,400 baht per month, one could fertilize bentgrass greens at Osaka, or bermudagrass greens at Thailand, for more than a year. That is something to consider when you are choosing which fertilizers to apply.

T-1 creeping bentgrass in Japan

Turfgrass Nitrogen Requirement and Growth Potential

Recently, Jason Haines, superintendent at Pender Harbour Golf Club, wrote a post on his blog entitled "How Much Nitrogen?". That post was especially interesting because it described in such clear terms how he makes effective use of nitrogen and its relationship to turf growth. 

In his post, Jason wrote:

The main benefit that I see from using the growth potential model is producing a healthier plant. Since switching over to this fertilizing method I have seen a huge improvement in my turf health . . . It has been a very enlightening year so far in regards to putting green fertility. Basically everything I learned in college 8 years ago has been thrown out the window. I am now using the MLSN guidelines and have based nitrogen inputs on the growth potential for my climate. I have to say, this new way of doing things is working a lot better than the old way. I have cut my fertilizer budget by 60% and have drastically increased the quality and health of my putting surfaces. Almost all guesswork has been eliminated and I can make fertility decisions with confidence.

Micah_woods_nitrogen_australiaIf you've been to one of my seminars about turfgrass nutrition or read handouts such as this one on understanding nutrient requirements, you'll know of the important role that nitrogen plays in producing the desired turfgrass conditions, and how we can use a temperature-based growth potential to determine an estimated nitrogen rate for any grass at any location. We can then adjust that calculated nitrogen rate based on turfgrass response and current turf conditions.

The turfgrass growth potential was developed by Dr. Wendy Gelernter and Dr. Larry Stowell at PACE Turf. The growth potential is quite useful in my work and I see it applied successfully by many golf course superintendents who adjust their nitrogen rate based on the growth potential. 

Monthly_annual_n_estimatesAs an example of how the growth potential can be used to predict estimated nitrogen requirement (use) by the grass, this chart shows the monthly and annual nitrogen for bentgrass at Vancouver and Osaka and for bermudagrass at Bangkok and Osaka. 

Jason mentioned that he was able to get these improvements in turf health and quality while reducing his fertilizer budget by 60%. In my next post, we will look at how much it actually costs to get these results.


Turfgrass Mystery: what is causing the splotchy dew pattern on this fairway?

Quiz-201209 1
Ok, here is a relatively easy one. What is causing the splotchy dew pattern on this warm-season fairway? Click the image to see a larger view. Bonus question: what country is this golf course in?

Thanks to everyone who responded. There were guesses of something to do with soil moisture (that was my first guess on this also!) and something to do with the trees, neither of which are correct, and a flurry of answers related to it being two different grass species with a difference in the way the leaves hold the dew.

That, of course, is the correct answer, and @GreatManDan gets the credit for identifying bermudagrass (Cynodon dactylon) as the grass holding the dew, and zoysiagrass as the grass not holding as much dew. For the bonus question, @campbellturf correctly identified the country as Japan. In the second picture, the cart path tracks, used with remote-controlled golf carts at so many courses in Japan, gives the country away.

Quiz-201209 2

This course was originally planted to Zoysia japonica in the rough and Zoysia matrella on the tees and fairways. In central and western Japan, when a little bit of bermudagrass finds its way onto the course, it tends to spread and spread, and these photos show just how much it has spread, as evidenced by the morning dew patterns. 

A Report on Putting Green Performance Characteristics

From August 2011 to May 2012, I collected data on putting green performance from more than 200 greens on nearly 80 golf courses in seven countries. These data are now summarized in this 24 page report, which has also been expertly translated into Japanese by Mr. Yukio Ueno.

Data_report_en Data_report_jp-1

Why it is Not Important to Maintain Soil pH Between 6.5 and 7.0

A few days ago I read a post on the Golfdom Daily about soil pH in which it was suggested that it was important to maintain soil pH in the range from 6.5 to 7.0. The reason was given "that most nutrients (whether applied or in the soil) are readily available to the plant in this pH range. Outside of this range many nutrients (both macro- and micro-nutrients) are not readily available to the plant."

PH_atcThat dogmatic statement about pH is not correct. The truth is that most turfgrass species grow well, with ample nutrient availability, in a pH range from 5.5 to 8.3. In some cases we can have excellent turf even with soil pH less than 5.5. In fact, at the Asian Turfgrass Center's research facility in Thailand, many grasses were maintained as a fine turf in soil with a pH of 3.7. Compared with the same variety grown at pH 7, we could find no visual difference.

So what is the real story about soil pH? The superb article Farming with Acidity by Sumner and Yamada explains just what the issues are. They start by explaining that the supposed optimum range for soil pH is an artifact of the soils and cropping systems used when the pH meter was first introduced:

In many parts of the world notably the US Midwest and Europe, soils have been limed to a particular target pH (6.5–7.0) according to the crop. Because plants do not directly respond to the activity of H+, it is pertinent to enquire why this approach to liming has enjoyed such widespread popularity. Among the reasons, the original near-neutral pH of many of the soils was no doubt a consideration and the use of acid-sensitive legumes to supply N in rotations in the early stages of agricultural development also played a part. The introduction of the pH meter at about the same time as N fertilizers found widespread popularity replacing legumes in rotations facilitated the measurement of soil acidity and removed the focus from the real problems of soil acidity, namely, toxic levels of Al3+ and Mn2+ and deficiencies of nutrients such as Ca, Mg, N, S, P and Mo. Even after legumes disappeared from the rotations, the high target pH values were retained. (Sumner and Yamada, Communications in Soil Science and Plant Analysis, 2002

The article reviews scores of experiments and concludes that:

There seems to be little merit in liming soils to pH values greater than 5.5 at which exchangeable Al is effectively neutralized. Additional benefits accruing to this strategy are: (a) reduced costs of lime, (b) reduced nitrification and attendant pollution of surface and ground waters, (c) control of diseases and pests, (d) improved infiltration and water use efficiency, and (e) increased nutrient availability. (Sumner and Yamada, Communications in Soil Science and Plant Analysis, 2002

For some distinctly non-dogmatic information about fertilizer, pH, and turfgrass nutrient requirements, see:

The Park Grass Experiment and the Fight Against Dogma (Woods & Rossi, 2011)

Mimumum Level for Sustainable Nutrition (PACE Turf, 2012)

Understanding Turfgrass Nutrient Requirements (Woods, 2012)

Turfgrass Nutrient Requirements, a video webcast from the Australian Turfgrass Conference (Woods, 2011)


Are Zoysia Fairways "Sticky"?

I've heard various objections made against the use of manilagrass (Zoysia matrella) on golf courses, one of those objections being that the grass is "sticky", that it grabs the ball or the club. In this video, we can see how the ball is grabbed, or not, by manilagrass fairways.

Keep in mind that what we see in the video is on fairways with typical maintenance, mown at 10 mm. There is no special effort made to have especially firm fairways and approaches. And this was during the rainy season. In the dry season (pictured below), those fairways are even faster and bouncier. Manilagrass-fairway-dryseason